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Iowa State season review

It’s the kind of moment that marks careers and serves as an inspiration to young coaches everywhere.

Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads' emotion-laced locker room reaction to his team’s upset over Nebraska has been a YouTube staple with more than 224,000 hits as of Wednesday afternoon.

For fans of college football, Rhoads’ show of emotion was refreshing -- a throwback to the good ol’ days when coaches were worried more about bonding with their teams than their next television appearance or tee time.

Rhoads’ show of emotion was genuine. And in much the same way, the overachieving Cyclones and their bowl appearance in his first season was the feel-good story of the Big 12 this season.

When he arrived at the school last spring, Rhoads was so appalled by the team’s techniques that he ordered a compulsory lesson in tackling fundamentals for all team members.

The Cyclones employed a tough running game keyed by Alexander Robinson to serve as most of their offense. The defense struggled stopping opponents who passed and didn’t notch many sacks, but most certainly knew how to tackle. ISU ranked 27th nationally in turnover margin.

ISU’s 6-6 season record, in a way, was done with mirrors. The Cyclones beat only one team with a winning record and that Nebraska victory was fueled by eight turnovers. The six teams that ISU beat this season have a combined win-loss record of 29-42.

But considering the Cyclones haven’t gone bowling since 2005, not many Cyclone fans are complaining about their trip to the Insight Bowl later this month.

Offensive MVP: RB Alexander Robinson

Thought that new offensive coordinator Tom Herman would turn the Cyclones into a wild passing team were dispelled because of the emergence of Robinson, who ran for 1,058 yards and six touchdowns to rank third in rushing in the Big 12. Robinson’s numbers are even more impressive considering his missed nearly two full games because of injuries.

Defensive MVP: LB Jesse Smith

No player better epitomized the overachieving nature of the Cyclones’ plucky defense than the 6-foot, 234-pound senior who led the Big 12 in tackles (10.8 per game) and notched nine double-digit games this season. Smith’s performance against Nebraska -- 12 tackles, two tackles for losses, a forced fumble and the game-clinching interception -- earned him the Walter Camp National Player of the Week honors.

Turning point: Oct 24 at Nebraska

The Cyclones’ 9-7 victory at Nebraska ultimately earned them a bowl appearance. And it the process, the Cyclones forced eight turnovers to win in Lincoln for the first time since 1977. Iowa State showed grit by playing the game without Alexander Robinson and starting quarterback Austen Arnaud, breaking a 14-game road Big 12 losing streak. It showed that the Cyclones can compete with the Big 12 North Division’s best and overcome much adversity along the way.

What’s next?

The Cyclones will revel in their bowl trip to Tempe where they will hook up with old rival Minnesota. A win would be huge to enable the Cyclones to finish with a winning record. Robinson, Arnaud, Darius Darks all will be back for next season. But the defense loses seven starters including key producers Nate Frere, Jesse Smith and James Smith. And the schedule will get much tougher with nonconference games against Utah and Northern Illinois and a switch in Big 12 opponents to Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech from Baylor, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State. It might be wise for the Cyclones and their fans to savor the bowl trip while they can.